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Militsa Brennan

  • Date Submitted: Oct 22, 2020
  • Category: General

“ Kern Medical's trauma center had swung the odds in Militsa's favor.”

Militsa Brennan

On a September day that seemed like any other, Militsa Brennan climbed aboard her favorite horse, Kiowa. The woman known as the ‘mountain’s angel’ in Frazier Park was preparing for her role in the Cuddy Valley’s 9/11 Ride to Remember event. At 17 hands, the part mustang/part draft horse had been a sturdy friend for years. But on this day, just as Militsa reached to fasten her helmet, Kiowa

lurched. Militsa was thrown and struck her head, setting in motion a wild series of events that would change her life forever. A medical helicopter rushed Militsa to Kern Medical where trauma doctors went to work dealing with her fractured skull. There was bleeding in the brain,

which had started to swell. The decision was made to remove part of Militsa’s skull and allow the brain to expand freely. Her accident cast a pall over the 9/11 event as word of her accident spread. For many, she was the driving force behind community events on the mountain. For much of her more than quarter century on the mountain, she had organized the annual health fair; she had decorated the downtown area for the Christmas Fair; she had been a force in the Girl Scouts; she had been everywhere the community needed a hand. In her day job as an x-ray technician at Clinica Sierra Vista, she touched many lives, but as a volunteer, she touched the entire community.

What quickly became clear was that Militsa would face many months of rehabilitation, first to regain normal breathing, then to regain motor skills. Then there would be more surgery. The community sprang into action. Officials at Clinica Sierra Vista vowed to hold her job for her and became an advocate for her with their insurance carrier. The local newspaper, the Mountain Enterprise, provided the community an update on her condition regularly and ran a photo page of residents wishing Militsa well. A Go- FundMe account, designed to offset some of the medical expenses, quickly exceeded the original goal of $10,000. Back at Dreamweaver Ranch, husband Terry Brennan was educating himself on Militsa’s condition, pressing doctors for details and a full explanation of treatment options. Dr. Charles Liu, the neurosurgeon who will eventually install a titanium plate to match the skull area removed initially, cautioned Terry that the injury was life-threatening. “He told me most don’t survive,” Terry recalled. But quick work in Kern Medical’s trauma center had swung the odds in Militsa’s favor.

“Terry was really strong,” recalled the couple’s longtime friend, Lori Hallmark. “He wasn’t afraid to get in peoples’ faces. He was going to get nothing less than 110 percent for his wife.” He praised the Kern Medical team – from doctors to social workers – for working with him and answering his every question. “They were just great,” he said.

After the initial injury was stabilized – and a heavy-duty cover was put in place to protect the area where the skull had been removed – the long road to rehabilitation started. It was a dizzying round through medical facilities – from Kern Medical to Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Van Nuys

for its 30-day intensive constant respiratory rehab program, then it was back to Bakersfield for in-patient occupational therapy at the Centre for Neuro Skills (CNS). She was a determined patient, husband Terry reported. At one point, he threatened to take away her cell phone, but she brushed off that idea as she used free time to check in on her many community projects. When it was suggested that a wealth of online brain games could help her regain some memory function faster, Terry was quickly back with an iPad, Hallmark said. By Christmas, Militsa was back at

Dreamweaver Ranch, sporting what looked like a 1950s-era football helmet to protect her head.

When Militsa first arrived in Kern Medical’s Level II trauma center, Dr. Joseph Chen was the neurosurgeon on duty. He’s a senior member of the neurosurgical department at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. Last summer, Dr. Chen and Dr. Liu, along with two colleagues, all from the Neurorestoration Center at USC, began providing 24/7 neurosurgery coverage at Kern Medical. (See story on Page 13.) The approach Drs. Chen and Liu adopted is paying dividends. Her motor skills and her memory are coming back.

As Militsa worked through her therapy routine as an outpatient at CNS in March, her community health fair was top of mind. During breaks, she consulted with other organizers and mapped strategy. It turns out the Relay for Life organizers had picked the same date – May 29 – as the Mountain Community Health Fair. And that just won’t do, she said. “Wait until I give them a piece of my mind,” she said with a wink. Her sense of humor is alive and well. When she’s back on the ranch, life resumes a sense of normal rhythm. “I’m holding my own,” she said. She dresses and cooks; she works on her projects. It took her a while to go out to see the horses again. She’s reconciled herself that her future involves riding in a horse-drawn cart, not on a horse. But it still stings. She knows neither she nor Kiowa did anything wrong. But sometimes things happen. The toughest part of the whole ordeal, she said, was “being taken out of a routine.”

She bristles at being told when to eat and when to rest. But she sees a light at the end of the tunnel and is looking forward to her return to Kern Medical for surgery. So is Dr. Liu, who serves as the director of the USC Center for Neurorestoration as well as the surgical director of the USC Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, and is one of Los Angeles' most experienced neurosurgeons. “That’s what I want in a surgeon,” Militsa said, “somebody who looks at a problem and says ‘I’ve got this.’” What lies ahead is unknown, but Hallmark has a suggestion: “Militsa would be a great example, a spokesperson, for the idea there is meaningful life after traumatic brain injury.” And as the Brennans were awaiting surgery this spring, the bond between the family and the mountain community has never been stronger. Militsa wrote in the Mountain Enterprise, “The Mountain Community has truly helped a family in need, my family. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for all of you.”